Social media campaign could help stop teen drivers from texting

With a growing number of teens texting behind the wheel, policy makers are looking for ways to combat this risky behavior. One blueprint that could work is the successful “designated driver” campaign attacking drunken driving led by Harvard School of Public Health’s Jay A. Winsten in the 1980s, according to a June 8, 2012 Boston Globe article. Winsten, now associate dean and the Frank Stanton director of the School’s Center for Health Communication, mobilized Hollywood and the media to shine a spotlight on the problem of drunk driving and popularize a new social norm—drivers don’t drink.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyfound 33% of high school students reported texting or e-mailing while driving. In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health last week released a poll conducted of nearly 5,400 high school students in 2011 that found 42% of the state’s high school student drivers text when behind the wheel.

Winsten told the Globe that a campaign using social media could be effective in dissuading teens to text behind the wheel. He cited the viral success of a social media campaign this year that raised awareness of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony’s kidnapping of children for his army. There was so much attention to stopping one bad guy from kidnapping children in central Africa, we ought to be able to mobilize a sizeable media for generating interest in young people about texting while driving,’’ Winsten said.

Read the Boston Globe article

Learn more

Read the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report

A Profile of Health Among Massachusetts Middle and High School Students, 2011 (Massachusetts Department of Public Health report)

Designated Driver Campaign: Harvard Center Helped To Popularize Solution to a National Problem(HSPH feature)

Center for Health Communication